Teagasc has responded to the questions in the public consultation for the Interim Review of Ireland’s Nitrates Derogation Programme, with proposals for how the derogation can be supported, based on Teagasc’s environmental research, and reviews of scientific literature.
Almost 7,000 intensively stocked farmers with an agricultural area of 466,000 hectares availed of the derogation in 2018.
How can we increase the efficiency of grassland management on derogation farms, while protecting the environment? Irish livestock systems are based on utilising grass herbage, particularly grazed herbage, as the main feed source, conferring manyproduction, environmental and economic benefits to the overall production system.In order to maintain or further enhance the sustainability of these grass based farming systems, grass herbage production needs to be measured and managed to ensure its utilisation is maximised.Fertilisers used on grassland farms must be sustainably managed to ensure they are efficiently used to increase grass production.This can be achieved by basing fertiliser application decisions on farm-specific soilsampling results, and tailored fertiliser and lime plans.Increased fertiliser, nitrogen use efficiency, in addition to other milk production benefits, can be achieved by incorporating clover into grassland swards, while cow nitrogen excretion rates can be reduced by optimising the crude protein and feeding rates of concentrate feed to grazing herds while at pasture.These technologies and best management practices can be implemented on derogation farms to increase the efficiency of grassland management and simultaneously protect the environment.How can livestock manure be best managed to ensure its impact on the environment is minimised?
Livestock manure is a valuable nutrient source that is routinely recycled back to soils on grassland farms.
In order to increase the efficiency and enhance the environmental sustainability of manure management on Irish farms, all aspects of the manure management chain need to be considered.
First, farmers should assess their livestock manure storage requirement to ensure they have the required capacity for quantities of this valuable resource produced in the winter closed period.
In order to protect water quality, manure storage and collection facilities, including yards etc, must be in good working order and managed in a manner that nutrient loss through runoff or leakage does not occur.
When this manure is being recycled back to grassland soils during land spreading, it should be applied during the spring period to soils with the largest nutrient requirement, minimising the total requirement for chemical fertiliser.
Use of low emission slurry spreading methods will minimise potential nitrogen losses during land-spreading, and reduce ammonia emissions associated with slurry.
How should the agricultural impact on soil be minimised on derogation farms?
Our agricultural soils are a critical resource and underpin grass-based livestock production systems.
To protect the quality and production potential of grassland soils, and minimise
nutrient leakage, farmers can implement a number of practices, where appropriate.
Use of on-off grazing to, extend the grazing season and increase fresh grass in the animal’s diet is a proven technology which protects the soil from severe poaching and structural damage.
Improving farm infrastructure, such as fencing off streams, correct placement of water troughs, and design and management of farm roadways, further protect soils, and minimise potential nutrient loss, especially through runoff to surface waters.
Correct drainage of wet mineral soils can also help to increase the grassland production potential of farmland, while reducing the potential greenhouse gas (nitrous oxide) emissions, especially where nitrogen fertilisers and manures are applied to managed farmland.
What specific actions can derogation farms take to minimise their impact on the environment?
Derogation farms can enhance their environmental sustainability by engaging with farm advisory services and implementing best management advice in terms of fertilisers and nutrient management; identifying areas of their farms with higher nutrient loss risk; and observing set-back distances for nutrient applications in order to protect water quality.
These farms can minimise ammonia and greenhouse gas emissions by switching to protected urea as their main nitrogen fertiliser source, and adopting low emission slurry spreading methods.
Their biodiversity levels can be enhanced by improving the nature and management of existing farm hedgerows, and by planting trees and new hedgerows where they can give multiple benefits.
Should all intensive livestock farms be subject to the conditions of the derogation, whether they apply or not?
No, a farm should not be classed as intensive unless it meets the definition of needing to apply for and receive a derogation to farm more intensively (meaning it is a grassland farm with an organic nitrogen loading of between 170 and 250 kg/ha).
The Eurostat glossary defines intensive farming as “farming systems characterised by significant use of capital and inputs relative to land. Large amounts of capital are necessary to the acquisition and application of fertiliser and pesticides to growing crops, and animal feedingstuff. Optimal use of these inputs produces significantly greater crop yields per unit of land than in extensive farming systems, which use less capital and inputs relative to land area”.
They also say, “intensive farming puts a pressure on the environment, due to the high use of inputs.
However, the actual effect of the use of inputs on the environment not only depends on the amount of inputs used but also on how and when they are applied”.
Farms receiving a nitrates derogation to farm more intensively fit with this definition.